The internet is a very complex network that is remarkably hard (read: impossible) to control. Companies, especially those with copyrighted material, have tried to create legislation to stop the exchanging of their content in the past, all to no avail. Although in the last year, preventative measures have been put into place to crackdown on copyright infringement. In the UK for instance, many internet providers now block access to all major torrenting sites and more recently, YouTube has caused a stir in the gaming community for its aggressive stance on copyrighted material facilitated by its new Content ID system.
In theory, YouTube is taking a more proactive stance on stopping monetization of copyrighted material. In practice however, it hasn’t gone down so simply and the community is enraged. Let’s Plays, reviews and all manner of other game-related content are in jeopardy as copyright claims are submitted to prevent and block footage and audio of games from being monetized. Even in videos where YouTubers have permission from the developers and publishers. The really odd thing though is that most of these “claims” are not actually by developers or publishers, but by third-party music companies who may or may not have legitimate claim to the content. In fact, a large number of developers support the Let’s Play community and are now actively trying to re-legitimize videos from these third party claimers.
Up until now YouTube had remained mostly quiet over the questions and opposition to these recent crackdowns, but they have finally broken their silence to clarify the situation to its users, since it’s become a widely publicized issue with major YouTube celebs posting videos knocking the policy, some even showing examples of videos that do not breach any policy (i.e. interviews with a developer). What YouTube has to say may disappoint many who wanted the policy alleviated. The letter, which has cropped up on Kotaku, is more of a reiteration of the company’s policy and goes onto make several suggestions about trying to avoid the claims in the future.
Talking directly of the third party content owners, YouTube backed their claims and told users that they could be infringing on a company’s rights even if they don’t know the company. This means a claim could come down on the video even for background music.
For example a record label may own music playing in the video (even in the background), a music distributor may own a game’s soundtrack, or a game publisher may own in-game cinematic content.
Also, online rights are often resold to companies like music labels and aggregators. While you might not recognize the owner, this doesn’t necessarily mean their claims are invalid.
Users can make a counter claim if they feel they haven’t broken any of YouTube’s policy and the decision can be reversed. If you want to avoid claims altogether though, the YouTube team suggests a rather roundabout way of making sure none of a user’s content is claimed.
If you’re creating videos with content from other people, remember that rights ownership can be complicated and different owners have different policies. Be aware of music. Many games allow you to turn off background music, while leaving sound effects enabled. And if you’re looking for music you can freely use (and monetize!), check out our Audio Library.
Soon, every Let’s Play and review could come complete with the same music from free audio libraries cut into every user’s video in post-production. It is not hard to see why that suggestion may not excite the community.
Protecting the rights of games developers is an important practice. Money is needed to generate new content and gamers should be supporting the medium by paying for what they don’t own. The question then is whether or not game developers and publishers – or the creators of cinematics and music featured in them – have the right to YouTubers posting commentary of an interactive experience playing said games, and whether or not they have the right to flat out block said content from being published on the video platform.
This puts Let’s Plays in a grey area as they often show a game’s complete storyline. Reviews with content used in promotional videos and the odd game clip though, should be protected by fair use laws. When publishers and creators want the community to spread the word by sharing gameplay of their games, but are stopped by third party businesses for unknown reasons, there is something wrong with the system…